Saturday, August 5, 2017

Fly, My Pretties! : GW2

Two years ago, red desert sand replaced white alpine snow as the backdrop for World vs World. There was no explanation for the (deeply unpopular) change, which appeared to have absolutely no connection, either thematic or lore, to the jungle-themed Heart of Thorns expansion of which it was nominally a part.

ArenaNet were very clearly aware of the discontinuity. Someone was either amused or uncomfortable enough about the whole thing to script a couple of conversations in which NPCs question each other about who built all the towers and where they might have gone. Naturally none of those NPCs comes up with any kind of explanation.

The Mists, the realm where the endless struggle over territory between worlds takes place, has always been something of a mystery. According to the wiki, they are "the oldest thing in existence, the proto-reality that exists between the worlds, constituting the fabric of time and space that connects the multiverse together."

The entry goes on to tell us that "The Mists resonate from the worlds around them, forming bits of their own reality - islands of existence that reflect the histories of their worlds." The Mists are a reality but not the reality, which is handy, because it means anything can happen there and no-one has to tell us why. Or how.

Rytlock Brimstone went to The Mists and came back changed. Changed into a new Class, The Revenant, one of HoT's key selling points. Far from explaining how that might have happened, the writers turned not explaining it into both a plot point and a meme - "Later, Cub".

At the time, the vast majority of WvW players were so incensed with the supposed unplayability of the new map that not even the few who acknowledged the game even had any lore cared to speculate on where that hated map might have originated. When anyone did comment on the provenance the general assumption seemed to be that the Desert Borderland was a rejected or surplus PvE map from the expansion that arrived at the same time.

That theory was given considerable credence by the design and structure of the map itself. It seemed to have been created with gliding, a signature feature of Heart of Thorns, very much in mind. The entire map is riven by cliffs and fissured with clefts. Rope bridges cross canyons, steps descend dizzyingly from blue skies to dark shadows. Anyone who has learned to glide in the vine-clogged Maguuma depths yearns to glide in the clear, free air here.

And now we can. In a move many had long requested but few probably believed would ever come, out of the blue Anet have enabled gliding in World vs World. The response from WvW veterans has been predictably curmudgeonly and the addition of gliding is only "a test for gliding in WvW. If we discover with this test that gliding is not appropriate for WvW, we will disable it". Enjoy it while you can.

I foresee unexpected consequences by the barrow-load. Gliding hasn't just been enabled for the Desert Borderland, for which it is eminently suited, but for the old Alpine Borderlands as well. I can immediately think of a whole raft of previously unreachable areas that could open up with just a short flight and if I can think of them you can bet our Commanders are already drawing up lists of spots to place siege where no-one can destroy it and our Mesmers are plotting their new, impregnable hidey-holes.

And that's only thinking of the borderline "fair use" problems that will need to be addressed by changes to code or structures. I'm sure there will be a slew of flat-out exploits for the spies and cheats and hackers to enjoy at our expense as well.

Still, I'm really looking forward to Tuesday, 8th August, the day my glider will unfurl in The Mists for the first time ever. My Elementalist will be riding her Magic Carpet into battle and with luck I might finally stop dying when I misjudge the drop as I jump off the cliff in a mad dash from Citadel to save North West Tower.

All of which is very well, but once again it begs the lore question. Why have our gliders started to work when they never did before? Why is it that they only work around structures we control? Who's behind all this?

Well, did you know that according to legend the only current access to The Mists comes courtesy of none other than... Balthazar? I didn't. According to the wiki "...the only known fixed means of entering the Mists is within Lion's Arch, which is said to contain a portal with a bluish hue made by Balthazar which fluctuates between different places of the Mists".

Balthazar, the very same rogue god - the God of War, let's not forget - currently filling the Main Villain slot in both the Living Story and the Path of Flame expansion. How intriguing that both gliding and Legendary Armor, another key feature of Heart of Thorns, should come to The Mists just as the God who gave us access to them strides to the fore.

And think about this: if it hadn't been for the intense player pushback that forced Anet into a U-turn, right now all the borderlands (save Eternal Battlegrounds) would feature a desert map that looks for all the world as though it fell, not from the Heart of Maguuma, but straight out of the forthcoming expansion.

It never made any kind of sense for the Desert Borderland map to have been a rejected design from the jungle-themed Heart of Thorns development cycle but it fits right in with everything we've seen from The Crystal Desert, where we're going in September. There's one screen shot that looks almost identical to Air Keep and Fire Keep could be Balthazar's Summer Palace.

Is it too much to imagine all this was planned out before the last expansion? That at least some of what looks from the outside to be fractured, reactive, pragmatic might in fact be considered, patient, imaginative? That somewhere in ANet Towers there remains at least a vestige of the rumored ten-year plan?

Pretty to think so.


  1. I can only see adding gliding to WvW as an economic move to further force sales of HoT. That would be such a crippling difference in WvW to those without that expac - pretty much a sick move by A net if it stays. Next up - gliding potions in the Anet store?

    1. The meta requirement for HoT class elites (and previously HoT account-bound runes and stats) pretty much made a purchase of the expansion mandatory for all serious WvW players long ago. Gliding is a frippery compared to that.

      You can still have fun in WvW on a casual basis on a F2P account in Exotics though. There's no barrier to participation only to excellence (if that's what you want to call what the dedicated WvW guilds aspire to).

      I don't really have a lot of patience with the idea that game companies shouldn't maximize their income streams, though, so if that was the motivation it wouldn't bother me. I just find it hard to imagine it would bring in much money.

      The Legendary Armor, which as far as we can tell will be usable in PvE as well, that might induce a few people to play WvW even if they don't enjoy it all that much. Not sure if you need HoT for that, though.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide